Every inch counts when it comes to the feedbunk, and eating space is one of veterinarian Gary Oetzel’s top feeding management concerns for prefresh dairy cows. Oetzel, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine, discussed this topic during a University of Wisconsin Division of Extension webinar focused on dry cows.
Oetzel reminded the audience that mature cows are about 30 inches wide, and that they need that much room to be able to fit at the feedbunk. Enough space for each cow is especially important in barns that don’t have headlocks or slant bars to keep a cow in its own eating spot.
“All cows need to be able to eat at the same time,” he said. “When feed is dropped, they all must be able to eat or there is a considerable price to be paid, especially for dry cows.”
There are several negative effects of inadequate eating space. Cows in these situations eat fewer meals per day and consume larger meals when they do eat, which elevates their risk for ruminal acidosis. Oetzel said limited bunk space also reduces their feed efficiency and increases feed sorting behavior.
Options when the barn is full
He acknowledged that cattle housing is expensive, which is why many farms overstock pens. If providing more eating space isn’t an option, Oetzel said to feed dry cows twice daily, reduce the sortability of the total mixed ration (TMR), and feed for generous refusals (5% to 10% daily).
If times of heavy calving put pressure on your facilities, Oetzel offered some advice to handle these situations. He said that cows can be moved out of the postfresh group sooner, as long as they get at least 10 days in that pen.
Prefresh cows are more challenging to manage, as time in the prefresh pen should not be less than 21 days. “It can be a train wreck if individual cows are not in that pen long enough,” Oetzel explained. If possible, he said to design the dry cow and prefresh barn with flexibility, including movable gates and enough waterers so that different sized pens can be created as needed.